Ezekiel 17 begins with these familiar words: “Now the word of the Lord came to me”. Ezekiel got regular words from God. This time, God gives him the words of a parable or illustration to point out the significance of the political and leadership developments that were happening in Jerusalem. In Ezekiel’s illustration, a giant eagle broke off the top branches of a young cedar tree and carried them into a land of trade. The eagle then planted a native seed that grew into a vine, but it was low-spreading and was obedient to the eagle. This represents Zedekiah who was put on the throne to replace Jehoiachin by the Babylonians and given very limited independence – basically was under their thumb as a leader.
As the story goes here, another giant eagle, equally as impressive as the first, appeared on the scene and the vine transferred its allegiance from its former master to this new eagle. Zedekiah rebelled agains Babylon and chose to side with Egypt. Ezekiel’s illustration continued with the first eagle pulling up the vine and cutting off its branches, leaving it to wither and die. “Will he not pull up its roots and cut off its fruit, so that it withers—so that all its sprouting leaves wither”? Exactly what happened to Zedekiah who was taken into exile by the Babylonians for his disobedience and dies a prisoner there.
Ezekiel’s interpretation of the illustration gives special emphasis to Zedekiah’s defiant choices in breaking his treaty with Babylon. “Surely in the country of the king who put him on the throne, whose oath he despised and whose covenant he broke, in Babylon he shall die”. Zedekiah had put a covenant in place with Nebuchadnezzar in the name of God, but he broke that covenant when he sought Egypt’s help and moved his allegiance. In punishment he was taken captive to Babylon and God dealt with Zedekiah’s decision to ignore the covenant as if it were against Himself. “My oath which he despised and My covenant which he broke, I will inflict on his head”.
Ezekiel finishes explaining the illustration which now shows that God, not an eagle, will now take a branch from the top of the cedar tree and plant it on the top of a mountain, where it will grow into a huge and magnificent tree. “On the high mountain of Israel I will plant it, that it may bring forth boughs and bear fruit and become a stately cedar”. It will bring benefits to birds and animals of all kinds. From David’s lineage of kings, God will take one, the Messiah, and through him establish a kingdom that will bring blessing to the whole world. Everyone will know that He is Messiah. “All the trees of the field will know that I am the Lord; I bring down the high tree, exalt the low tree, dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will perform it”. High trees will be made low and green trees will dry up, but God’s tree will flourish.
Ezekiel 16 has the prophet telling the story of the unfaithfulness of Judah. He gives a long and colorful illustration of how the ancient nation was formed and how God “swore to you and entered into a covenant with you so that you became Mine”. God saved a people who were unwanted and hated. He gave them a chance to live. He made her beautiful and her fame spread to all the nations. But Judah was not faithful to God and their covenant with Him. Judah became a spiritual prostitute and built idols and shrines and worshipped all sorts of false gods from other lands.
Ezekiel spends a lot of time telling the story of Judah’s unfaithfulness. And then, he delivers the truth of God’s response. “Because you have not remembered the days of your youth but have enraged Me by all these things, behold, I in turn will bring your conduct down on your own head….I have stretched out My hand against you…. will incite a crowd against you and they will stone you and cut you to pieces with their swords. They will burn your houses with fire and execute judgments”. You just can’t ignore God and do whatever you want. There is a price for sin and disobedience. And for the people of Judah, it will be severe.
According to ancient practice, the punishment for an adulteress (which was how God viewed Judah) was to be stripped naked, paraded in public and then stoned to death. Judah would therefore be punished, its countryside stripped bare and the nation destroyed by enemy invaders. That’s how God “will calm My fury against you and My jealousy will depart from you, and I will be pacified and angry no more”. Punishment has to come, and it will be severe and complete. God sees Judah as worse than Sodom and Samaria. Remember how thorough his destruction was of them?
But in spite of His anger and the punishing destruction He will deliver, God never gives up nor stops loving His people. Ezekiel saw the day when a humbled and forgiven Jerusalem would exercise authority over all her neighbours. The granting of this authority would be a free act of God’s forgiving grace, just like the gift of grace He offers us today through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. “Thus I will establish My covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord, so that you may remember and be ashamed and never open your mouth anymore because of your humiliation, when I have forgiven you for all that you have done”.
Ezekiel 15 has the prophet hearing another word from the Lord. This time, it was about the reality that Judah was one nation among many – like a vine among the trees of the forest. “Son of man, how is the wood of the vine better than any wood of a branch which is among the trees of the forest”? God’s people thought they were special, and that they could do whatever they wanted without consequence. They didn’t believe He would truly punish them. They believed they were better than wood from any other tree just because of their heritage.
Unfortunately they forgot some of the core reasons God’s blessing had been upon His people. It was based on a covenant relationship and strong godly leadership which had all but vanished. The people had walked away from God and were worshipping idols of other nations. They were like wood that was “fire for fuel, and the fire has consumed both of its ends and its middle part has been charred, is it then useful for anything”. In God’s eyes, they had left and were basically useless – not even fit to make into a peg to hang something on.
God’s had enough. “As the wood of the vine among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so have I given up the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and I set My face against them”. God isn’t just disappointed – He is setting His face against those who have been His people. The nation of Judah was walking in rebellion against God, and He has had enough. There were useless and already half destroyed because of the attacks of the Babylonians. But even though they are ‘half burnt’, there is more to come.
“Though they have come out of the fire, yet the fire will consume them. Then you will know that I am the Lord, when I set My face against them”. Unfortunately, they have not learned their lesson. They continue to ignore their God. It will cost them everything. “I will make the land desolate, because they have acted unfaithfully”. How we live matters. God wants a covenant relationship with us. The people of Judah chose, and it was a choice they made intentionally, to ignore the God who had blessed them for generations, and worship gods of foreign lands. They pushed God off the throne and now would pay a stiff price. Jerusalem will be destroyed in the coming judgment. All because of selfish and stupid choices!
Ezekiel 14 has the elders of Israel coming to the prophet for advice. And he does, but it isn’t what they are looking for. God tells him “Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their hearts and have put right before their faces the stumbling block of their iniquity”. Idolatry is a big deal to God. He is not ok when we let anything push Him off the throne of our life, when we put anything ahead of Him. And to add insult to that injury, we often put those idols of our heart right there front and center in a way they continue to keep us worshipping the wrong things. These men were outwardly loyal to God but inwardly they were attracted to the Babylonian gods. They were leaders leading people astray.
God makes it clear that he would not speak to such people through his prophet, but would speak directly. He would speak in a decisive act of judgment that would remove this tendency towards idolatry from the hearts of his people. God’s intent was to “lay hold of the hearts of the house of Israel who are estranged from Me through all their idols”. He’s going to get their attention and bring them back. He wants them cleansed from idolatry. “Repent and turn away from your idols and turn your faces away from all your abominations”. Repentance is the way to get right with God.
There were false prophets giving out lies and bad information and God is going to deal with them as well. “I will set My face against that man and make him a sign and a proverb, and I will cut him off from among My people. So you will know that I am the Lord”. He won’t tolerate idols or false prophets. And the sin of idolatry can extend far beyond an individual. Nations can be guilty. “Son of man, if a country sins against Me by committing unfaithfulness, and I stretch out My hand against it”. We must be careful in realizing the impact of idolatry as a nation – it can lead to our destruction by a just God.
There might be some thought that God wouldn’t destroy a nation because there are some good people somewhere. We’ve seen that to not necessarily be the case – think Sodom and Gomorrah – but God addresses that here as well. He makes a point of three great men in scripture – “even though these three men, Noah, Daniel and Job were in its midst, by their own righteousness they could only deliver themselves”. God isn’t going to give us a pass because there are some righteous among us. Sin carries a penalty – scripture tells us the wages of sin is death – and we have to realize God is a holy God who will not tolerate it. He makes it clear through Ezekiel that ther is coming “four severe judgments against Jerusalem: sword, famine, wild beasts and plague to cut off man and beast”.
Ezekiel 13 has the prophet dealing with the false prophets who were creating havoc among God’s people. “Woe to the foolish prophets who are following their own spirit and have seen nothing”. These people were bad guides, spiritually and morally, because they proclaimed only what they themselves wanted. They had no knowledge of the mind of God. “They see falsehood and lying divination who are saying, ‘The Lord declares,’ when the Lord has not sent them; yet they hope for the fulfillment of their word”.
Judah was falling into ruins, but the false prophets, instead of helping to repair and strengthen the nation, they exploited the situation for their own benefit. They were like foxes digging holes around the city wall helping its ruin. “Because you have spoken falsehood and seen a lie, therefore behold, I am against you….My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations”. God is not sitting back and idly watching these false prophets destroy His people. He is going to punish them and they were going to lose their place in society and their right to live in God’s land.
If these preachers had been true prophets, they would have destroyed the people’s mistaken hopes of peace and security. Instead they encouraged them. Ezekiel gives an illustration of how these false prophets would white wash a broken wall to cover the cracks – deceiving the people to believe it would stand. God announced that he would send a storm of rain, hail and wind, and the wall would collapse, burying the false prophets beneath it. “So I will tear down the wall which you plastered over with whitewash and bring it down to the ground, so that its foundation is laid bare; and when it falls, you will be consumed in its midst. And you will know that I am the Lord”.
Among the false prophets were a number of women who caused the nation to slide due to their practice of witchcraft and their creation of ‘magic bands’. They used magic wristbands and veils in their weird rituals, casting deadly spells over their innocent victims, while protecting the evil people who consulted them. “I am against your magic bands by which you hunt lives there as birds and I will tear them from your arms; and I will let them go, even those lives whom you hunt as birds”. God declared that he would now destroy their powers and release those whom they kept in bondage. Ezekiel has a tough crowd to attempt to reach. But He speaks God’s truth, which always wins in the end.
Ezekiel 12 has the prophet acting out another message for the rebellious people in Jerusalem. They didn’t believe the message of coming doom. So Ezekiel is instructed to demonstrate what would happen. “Son of man, you live in the midst of the rebellious house, who have eyes to see but do not see, ears to hear but do not hear; for they are a rebellious house”. It wasn’t that the people were incapable of hearing God and obeying – it was a choice they were making. Rebellion is intentional and is exactly what sin is all about. We choose to disobey God.
God tells Ezekiel to “prepare for yourself baggage for exile and go into exile by day in their sight; even go into exile from your place to another place in their sight. Perhaps they will understand though they are a rebellious house”. He’s to make a point as publicly as possible. God wants the people to see exactly what is coming because they chose to disobey. “Load the baggage on your shoulder in their sight and carry it out in the dark….I have set you as a sign to the house of Israel”. Ezekiel’s daytime act was to gather a few belongings that an exile could carry with him and set off into the country. His nighttime act was a little different. He dug through the wall of his home, then tried to escape with his bundle of belongings into the night.
God is trying to send a message to His people. Ezekiel was to tell them “I am a sign to you. As I have done, so it will be done to them; they will go into exile, into captivity”. This was a picture of the captivity of the Babylonians. God does have a plan in the midst of this catastrophe – He will save a remnant of those who are repentant. He tells us why this is happening, and then the reality that in the midst of His punishment, there is still hope. “They will know that I am the Lord when I scatter them among the nations and spread them among the countries. But I will spare a few of them”.
Many of the exiles doubted the truth of the messages that Ezekiel announced. They argued that days, months, and even years passed, but they did not see his prophecies fulfilled. God responds with a reply. The waiting is over. “For I the Lord will speak, and whatever word I speak will be performed. It will no longer be delayed, for in your days, O rebellious house, I will speak the word and perform it”. God warns them that action is coming and there would be no more delay. What He said is going to happen. It would have been best to not challenge God on this, but now His people will see Him take action.
Ezekiel 11 has our prophet at the east gate of the temple and God gives Him a vision of what lies ahead. This aligns with the earlier vision he wrote about, but this time with more detail. “The Spirit lifted me up and brought me to the east gate of the Lord’s house….there were twenty-five men at the entrance….leaders of the people….these are the men who devise iniquity and give evil advice in this city”. God shows Ezekiel a vision of a group of twenty-five of the city’s political leaders. The wrong advice of these men was one reason why Jerusalem was heading for certain ruin.
Jeremiah had been telling the people that to fight against Babylon was fatal, for God had sent the Babylonians to punish Jerusalem. The city should therefore surrender and allow God’s plan to come to fruition. These leaders, on the other hand, were stirring up the people to resist Babylon. They recommended that building programs in the city be stopped so that more men would be available to fight. They were confident that they were safe in Jerusalem. The city walls would protect the inhabitants from the Babylonians, just as a cooking pot protects the flesh inside it from the fire. They were very wrong, and as leaders, were now being held accountable. Scripture tells us over and over that leaders are held to a higher standard.
“You will fall by the sword. I will judge you to the border of Israel; so you shall know that I am the Lord….for you have not walked in My statutes nor have you executed My ordinances, but have acted according to the ordinances of the nations around you”. Ezekiel saw one of Jerusalem’s leaders drop dead as he was speaking. The prophet was again filled with fear as he saw the determination of God to punish his rebellious people. All the leaders of the city would have the same fate because they lost their way and followed things that were contrary to God and His ways.
God reminds Ezekiel that He will scatter those who are left as a remnant of His people, and someday will gather them back to Himself. Ezekiel points out that the exiles are God’s favored people, the remnant whom He has preserved. When they repent of their idolatry and rebellion, He will bring them back and restore them to a new covenant relationship with Himself. “I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them….I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God”. This ends the series of visions that Ezekiel has and he returns to his normal life.